Although these phrases are often used interchangeably they have slightly different meanings, so we should be careful how we use them.
“According to…” is usually used when you restate something someone told you or something you have heard or read somewhere. It is mostly used for reporting.
According to the clerk we spoke to when we telephoned the supervisory authority this morning, the application was filed last week.
It may be used to introduce information that might not be true:
According to the state news agency, the number of demonstrators did not exceed 1,000. However, the organisers of the protest say there were at least 100,000 people on the march.
It may also be used to introduce hearsay:
According to Annabel, Tom wants to dump Sarah because he really fancies Emma.
“In accordance with…” is used in more formal contexts to introduce the notion of conformity. In a legal context it is used for stating what conforms to the law or a contract. It is never used to introduce information that may not be true.
In accordance with Article 72 of the Act, employees of the Company have the right to form a representative body.
In accordance with §12 of Ms Horvath’s employment contract, she is employed for a fixed period of time – 3 years.
It is common that people use “according to” when they should use “in accordance with”. Try to ensure that you use the right phrase in the right context.
In some cases you can use “under…” instead of “in accordance with”, or where “in accordance with” seems too strong:
Under the new provisions, employers are obliged to inform all employees about which employees are responsible for evacuating the building.
Under / In accordance with a general rule of the Pharmaceutical law, the sponsor and the investigator are responsible for damage resulting from conducting a clinical trial.
Although “pursuant to…” is often used to mean the same thing as “in accordance with” or “under”, some people think it has a different meaning, i.e. “further to” / “as a follow up to”. Either way, “pursuant to” has become rather unfashionable, and you may choose never to use it.
Using a comma with this type of clause
I recommend that you use a comma at the end of this type of clause.
According to recent government statistics, unemployment has risen from 3% to 5% over the last 12 months.
This is because it is often unclear where the “according to / in accordance with” clause ends and the main clause begins. Consider the following example:
In accordance with the draft settlement we were provided with the severance payment provided in § 8 sec. 4 of Mr Price’s employment contract will be paid in January 2011.
I think you’ll agree that a comma after “provided with” would help the reader, whereas a comma after “settlement” would throw the sentence into chaos (but I’ll bet this is where you thought one should go when you read the sentence the first time).